The building at 11 Mareblu in Aliso Viejo on Wednesday, November 21, 2018, where a bomb exploded in a day spa killing its owner, Ildiko Krajnyak, in May 2018, is still surrounded by tarps and scaffolding. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Firefighters and sheriffs deputies escort children from Academy on the Hill pre-k school in Aliso Viejo on May 15, 2018, after a nearby explosion killed one person and injured two others. (File Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
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Investigators work at the scene of an explosion in Aliso Viejo on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.(File Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A deputy stands watch as the Orange County hazmat team and bomb squad investigate the scene of an explosion in Aliso Viejo on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (File Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The building at 11 Mareblu in Aliso Viejo on Wednesday, November 21, 2018, where a bomb exploded in a day spa killing its owner Ildiko Krajnyak in May 2018, is still surrounded by tarps and scaffolding. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The Orange County hazmat team, bomb squad, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security investigate the scene of an explosion in Aliso Viejo on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (File Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Firefighters and sheriffs deputies escort children from Academy on the Hill pre-k school in Aliso Viejo on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 after a nearby explosion killed one person and injured two others. (File Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
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ALISO VIEJO — Its been six months since an explosion ripped through the Magyar Kozmetika day spa, killing its owner and injuring two customers, but the scars from the mysterious bombing are still visible.
Scaffolding, gray tarps and a chain-link fence shroud the red brick building at 11 Mareblu that housed the business where patrons once flocked for facials, eyelash extensions and other skin-care treatments. A labyrinth of yellow caution tape still winds around a walkway leading to the front entrance.
Behind the scenes, investigators with the FBI and Orange County Sheriffs Department are doggedly chasing leads and analyzing thousands of minute pieces of evidence, while making a public plea for anyone who was in the area in the days leading up to the explosion to come forward.
“A lot of people think, Hey, I may have saw something, but (investigators) probably know, ” Orange County Sheriffs Department Cmdr. William Baker said in an exclusive interview with the Southern California News Group. “But it could be something key that they saw that we dont know.”
The building that housed Magyar Kozmetika, situated in a small cul-de-sac occupied by several medical buildings and a day-care center, sits in the shadow of the 73 toll road, a block away from the busy Oso and Moulton parkways.
With hundreds of people in the area in the days leading up to the May 15 explosion, authorities believe it is likely someone saw something that could assist with the investigation.
“If they were in that area, no matter what they saw, no matter how insignificant they thought it was at the time, if they drove by and had a dash cam, no matter what they had, that could help us out,” said Joshua Stone, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBIs Los Angeles field office.
Since the start of the probe, federal and local investigators say they have collected more than 1,000 pieces of evidence, at least 300 of which were sent to the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Virginia. They also have recovered terabytes of data from electronic accounts, which agents are still reviewing, as well as security camera footage.
Clearing the crime scene alone took weeks of around-the-clock effort by hundreds of investigators and technicians, including specialized evidence response teams flown in from as far away as Boston. Technicians literally were looking at evidence at the molecular level, according to investigators.
“They were down on their bellies going inch by inch,” Stone said. “It was a bomb scene, it was not something that had taken place in a small area. It spanned about 90 to 80 feet in different directions.”
“It would be like looking for something microscopic in a building that was hit by a tornado, that is how we are treating it,” FBI Special Agent Nicholas Vicencia added.
Other agents have conducted countless interviews, including some in Hungary with relatives of 48-year-old Ildiko Krajnyak, who was killed in the blast.
Investigators have not determined a motive for the bombing, but believe Krajnyak was specifically targeted. The explosive device itself is believed to have been assembled from items that could have been easily purchased at retail stores, investigators said.
The explosion rang out shortly after 1 p.m. in a suite occupied by the spa. Windows and doors in the bottom floor unit were blown away, as was the ceiling of the day spa. Witnesses rushing to help found two women walking outside of building, covered in ash, soot and severe burns.
Police quickly cleared the area, leaving a large crowd watching from the wings. Firefighters and bomb squad personnel found Krajnyaks remains outside of a broken window in a parking lot.
They also recovered a nine-volt battery, a mobile phone and melted material that appeared to be duct tape and loose wires, leading them to quickly conclude the explosion was man-made.
Within hours, investigators, along with the media, arrived in the Trabuco Canyon neighborhood where Krajnyak lived. Crying family members described her death as a complete shock.
No one answered the door at Krajnyaks home last week but a weathered note left on the front porch mourning her death described her as a “true beauty, without a doubt with angels in heaven.”
Investigators spoke to the two women who survived the blast as they recuperated at a hospital. The women told authorities the bomb had been in one of several cardboard boxes in a mix of unopened mail at the spa.
As soon as Krajnyak opened the box, it exploded, throwing the women backward. One of the women told investigators she saw “everything on fire” after the blast.
Ex-boyfriend arrested, not charged[hhmc]
Meanwhile, investigators also headed to Long Beach to interview Stephen Beal, 59, a part-owner of the spa who would soon come to be the focus of the case. An FBI agent would later outline their conversation with Beal in a sworn statement filed in federal court.
Beal and Krajnyak had met through an online dating website in 2016, he told investigators, and had dated for a year-and-a-half before their relationship cooled over “exclusivity” and “financial issues.”
Beal claimed he paid half the rent for the day spa, half its operating costs and would sometimes have to loan money to Krajnyak to cover the remaining expenses.
Photos on Beals Facebook page showed he and Kranjyak vacationing in Mexico and a website outlining his part-time acting career.
While executing a search warrant, according to court records, agents said they found two completed improvised explosive devices, three firearms, and chemicals and material that could be used to build other IEDs at Beals Long Beach home.
Beal explained the explosives by telling investigators he had a model rocket hobby.
He acknowledged to agents that at one point he had made a smaller explosive device to assist a neighbor with a gopher problem, and had built fireworks, including mortars, but stopped after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., because he did not want to “give the wrong impression,” according to a probable-cause statement.
However, federal investigators were not convinced, writing in court filings that the devices at Beals home were “not consistent with that of a model rocket.”
Another suspicious death[hhmc]
Neighbors told reporters that Beal claimed his first wife had died in a freak accident. Los Angeles County coroners records indicate Christine Beal died in 2008 at age 48. The records list her cause of death as “undetermined,” but mentioned “pancreatitis, electrolyte imbalance” and “chronic lead intoxication.”
However, court records showed that, in 2010, Beal had won a $500,000 settlement from an insurance company after claiming his wife died from traumatic pancreatitis after falling down a flight of stairs while carrying a 49-pound end table.
An investigation into her death, opened after his arrest on the federal charges, is being handled by the Long Beach Police Department, apart from the FBI and Sheriffs Departments probe into the bombing.
Beal was arrested and charged in federal court with possessing an unregistered explosive device but was not charged in connection with Krajnyaks death.
Prosecutors initially argued strenuously that Beal should remain behind bars, telling a federal judge he showed a “callous disregard” for his neighbors by keeping explosives in his garage, was a flight risk and had lied to investigators. The judge agreed Beal would remain in jail.
During a court hearing, attorneys alluded to Beal suffering from physical and mental health issues, and made references to his being on disability for lead poisoning, and having suffered psychosomatic symptoms and hallucinations in 2004.
A little more than a week later, the U.S. Attorneys Office dropped the charges against Beal, with prosecutors explaining the device he possessed may have been legal.
Last week, no one answered the door at the home of Beal, who has recently filed for bankruptcy. Several residents in the quiet neighborhood said the only time they see him is when comes outside to collect his mail.
Months later, investigators have declined to identify Beal as a suspect or a person of interest in the explosion. They cited the wide scope of the investigation, saying they arent narrowing the bombing down to one individual.
Investigators dont believe any other bombs were placed at the business beyond the one Kranjyak opened. There was no indication the explosion was a terrorist act, the investigators said, and the community is not believed to be at risk.
Bombings in Southern California are rare.
One of the most puzzling, unsolved cases is an Oct. 11, 1985, explosion that killed Alexander Michel Odeh, western regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Odeh was killed when he opened the door of the ADC office at 1905 E. 17th St. in Santa Ana. The FBI believes terrorists are responsible for that blast, spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
Months after the Aliso Viejo explosion, local and federal investigators say solving the bombing remains a high priority. Vicencia compared the intricate work that has gone into the case to examining grains of sand.
“We dont have all the answers yet,” the agent said, “but we are looking at every grain of sand. And at this date, five months after, we are continuing to look at every part, and we will have answers to every grain of sand.”
Anyone with information about the bombing is asked to contact the FBI at 310-477-6565 or its nearest field office.
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